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Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists administer preventive dental care, show patients how to take care of teeth and gums, clean teeth stains, and remove deposits left on teeth. They also perform basic gum and teeth examinations and make note of any abnormalities or signs of disease.

Dental hygienists utilize various tools to treat patients. Hand, rotary, and ultrasonic tools are utilized to remove plague and stains, clean teeth, and perform routine examinations. Hygienists also utilize x-ray technology to take dental x-rays, and they’re occasionally required to develop film. They often use teeth models to teach patients about preventative care and prepare for periodontal therapy. Dental hygienists also apply fluoride and fissure sealants to decrease cavities.

Other dental hygienist duties differ by state. In certain states, hygienists are permitted to apply anesthetics with syringes and other devices. Dental hygienists in some states are permitted to place filling materials and periodontal dressings, finish metal restorations, and remove sutures.

Dental hygienists also teach patients how to improve dental hygiene. For example, they often recommend dietary changes to patients with dental problems, teach patients how to choose toothbrushes, and teach them how to properly floss and brush teeth.

Hygienists often make simple dental diagnoses and setup diagnostic tests that are administered by dentists. Hygienists often work alongside dentists during dental procedures.

Education and Training

To qualify for a dental hygienist job, you must earn a dental hygienist degree from an accredited school and satisfy state licensure requirements.

Most dental hygienist training programs only admit applicants who hold high school degrees and have submitted test scores from college entrance exams. Aspiring dental hygienists should take math, chemistry, and biology classes during high school. Some training programs only admit students who’ve completed a year or more of college. Each school usually has different admittance requirements. As of 2008, the Commission on Dental Accreditation recognized 301 dental hygiene training programs. Students who graduate from dental hygiene programs usually earn associate’s degrees, but some schools offer professional certificates or bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dental hygiene. Most dentists only hire hygienists who hold at least an associate’s degree. Those who teach, conduct research, specialize in clinical practice, or supervise public health programs typically hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Job Outlook

This profession is among the fasting growing professions nationwide. However, in certain areas, competition for open positions is intense.

Job growth for dental hygienists is anticipated to increase by 36 percent until 2018, an above average rate compared to other professions. Demand for these specialists will be spurred by growing demand for dental services and increased job responsibilities.

Demand for dental care will increase as elderly populations continue to age, greater emphasis is placed on preventative care, and more people continue to retain their natural teeth. To satisfy demand, dental clinics will hire more dental hygienists to administer routine services dentists previously administered.

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